“When we feel better, we live more.” — Dr. Rangan Chaterjee
Mmm, that chocolate churros from La Lola is sooo good. Can’t stop having some more! Don’t worry, this wild cheat day is only once in a while!
What feels good motivates us. Whether it’s that churros with hot chocolate or expressing our feelings to a loved one, we human beings always want to feel good. It drives many of our actions and with good reason. Pleasure, according to the theory of evolution, is an experience felt when one does something in the past that has help its survival. We are constantly looking for pleasure whether it is physical or mental and exercise is an activity that boost our endorphins or “feel good hormones.” That’s why we’d of hear runners talk about the “runners high,” an ecstatic feeling achieved amidst the pain of running. This motivates them to push further and take exercise more seriously.
Being a fitness coach for a little more than half a decade has given me enough insight as to how many of us approach our journey towards health. Some start off as really determined in turning their whole lifestyles around. They’re willing to give up a lot and do whatever it takes just to regain their health. Others simply want to test the waters and take it slow. Although some already value the importance of their health, I still encounter many people who take an overly simplistic approach to their health journey. They miss the point of cultivating the right mindset towards health and fitness. Although I always say it’s about proper nutrition, right exercise and quality recovery, many people focus on only one area at a time. What is quite hard to grasp for many is that all three play a critical and inseparable role towards our well-being. We can’t simply have one without the other and expect to see long lasting results.
“You cannot buy your health; you must earn it through healthy living.” — Joel Fuhrman
To survive, our bodies have evolved to adapt to stress. Whether this stressor is external, like that of an insect bite or an internal one like a harmful chemical entering our bloodstream, our biology has defense and repair mechanisms that keep us alive. One of these rescue and repair mechanism is inflammation.
When I overtrained the standing calf raises years ago, I sent a lot of stress signals to my Achilles tendons and this eventually broke them down. My body’s inflammatory response is fast—the pain got my attention, blood rushed to the site of injury and surrounding tissue do their job in repairing. In a matter of weeks, the inflammation had already reduced. After months of rehab, my tendons functioned normally again. This is the kind of inflammation that is good—acute or short-lived.
Our Inflammatory Lifestyle
Stress can come in many different ways and forms and today, we live in an age where we are constantly bombarded with stress. Inflammation is sustained over long periods of time. Upon waking up, we check our emails and get bombarded with things to do. We are worried and stressed as we hurry along to the the office where we work sitting down the whole day. We unknowingly slow our metabolism down. We seldom take a break and when we do, we eat comfort junk food to sooth the stress. We get home late and stressed out because we tried to be “productive” at work. And because of the heightened cortisol in our system, it’s hard for us to fall asleep and in effect get poor quality sleep. Sounds familiar?
“Processed foods cause inflammation, a source of most chronic illnesses as well as stress.” — Kris Carr
This Inflammatory Lifestyle leads to a conditioning known as chronic inflammation—inflammation that lasts for years or decades. Our body is simply not designed to be in a constant state of red alert and when it is. This leads to chronic disease (or lifestyle disease) such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity and Alzheimer’s, to name a few.
“Inflammation is a hot topic in medicine. It appears connected to almost every known chronic disease.” — Mark Hyman, MD
A Balance of All Three
Lifestyle diseases can be cured by lifestyle changes. Eureka! But this is where it gets tricky. The key word here is lifestyle. More often than not, when people come to me for help, they are looking for quick fixes or at least hold an oversimplistic approach to their health. “Coach, I’d like to lose weight so I’ll start exercising three days a week.” Although this sounds great, it is incomplete. Remember, an hour of exercise a day is just one hour of your entire day—sitting down in front a computer, stressing out because of deadlines and binging on processed comfort food on the remaining twenty three will still wreck havoc on your health. Also, three days of exercise a week is just three days. It’s how you live on the other four that matters.
“Exercise is not enough. Working out three times a week is not enough. Being active throughout day is what keeps you healthy.” — Tom Rath
The same thing can be said of nutrition. If we’d simply eat healthy, whole and unprocessed food, yes, we are giving our bodies the quality nutrients it needs, but we’re not boosting our metabolism.
“Food is an important part of a balanced diet.” — Fran Lebowitz
Studies show that an increased muscle leads to increased metabolism and healthy aging. An inefficient metabolism with healthy food is like an aged car fueled with high-octane gasoline. It will run smoothly on the inside but lame and low-capacity on the outside.
“Food is more than fat versus carbs. Good health is more than just food.” — Dr. Rangan Chaterjee
In the same light, too much recovery is simply pointless when there is nothing to recover from! Studies show that too much idleness, where the mind has nothing actively to engage in, leads to depression. Oversleeping, like insufficient sleep, is a disorder and according to several studies it can lead to diabetes, heart disease, stroke and death.
“Nature has everywhere written her protest against idleness; everything which ceases to struggle, which remains inactive, rapidly deteriorates.” — James Terry White
It Takes a Lifestyle
As you can see, exercise, nutrition and recovery are indispensable from one other. The right amount of exercise breaks our body down just enough for our immune system to handle. Through the food we eat, we provide our bodies the necessary building blocks it needs to repair itself. And during rest and sleep, most of the recovery and healing process occur, which make us stronger and ready for the next workout.
Here are some quick tips to incorporate all three into your daily routine and turn it into a lifestyle:
Start with the end in mind. Plan your sleeping time starting tomorrow. Ideally, you’d want to get at least six to eight hours of quality sleep each night. To do this, force yourself to settle down an hour before your ideal sleeping time.
Don’t be afraid to set boundaries. Stop working early or delegate some tasks so you can use this time to slow down and relax. Read or listen to a podcast or anything that will help you relax.
Upon waking, alot at least 30 minutes before you start your day. Use this time to meditate, have coffee or take a morning stroll. One recent study found that exposure to bright morning light correlates with a lower body weight and naturally fixes our circadian rhythms. Also, getting enough sunlight helps us produce melatonin at night, a hormone that helps us relax and go to sleep.
Block out two hours for a workout at least three times a week. This can be tricky for the workaholics out there, but I promise it can be done. It there’s a will, there’s a way! Treat your workout like taking a shower. It’s not something you have to do, but something you must do.
Last but not the least—plan everything ahead. Use your Sunday or your day off and dedicate a time to sit down and plan your routine for the days ahead. You can also prepare your meals ahead or shop for healthy snacks like almonds, walnuts and avocados. Packing your own food will save your life! You’ll never know when you’ll need it! The secret to staying ahead is planning ahead.
Just like everyone else, it’s not every day that I get my fitness and health program done perfectly. We’re not machines programmed to do the same thing all day every day. We’re living, breathing, socializing human beings who adjust and adapt with and for others. This creates beauty and complexity in our daily lives. Believe it or not, there is a way to turn our modern lifestyle into a healthy lifestyle. We are humans after all. We create the rules and norms we live by everyday and the same can be done for our health. Don’t insert “health” into your life, turn your life into a healthy lifestyle.
“Good health and good sense are two of life’s greatest blessings.” —Publilius Syrus